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Monday, January 11, 2016

It’s Indisputable – Republicans Hate America’s Democracy And Its Constitution


Monday, January, 11th, 2016, 9:56 am

Burn Constitution

It may be time to remind Republicans serving in public office that when they swear an oath to serve, it is to support the United States Constitution that serves all the people and the idea that America is a representative democracy; an idea Republicans despise with religious fervor. Republicans and their various conservative iterations claim that, although they are woefully ignorant of the nation’s founding document as the law of the land, they love the Constitution more than they love Ronald Reagan. However, there is a mountain of evidence that although they love the 2nd and 10th Amendments more than they love their god, bible, and corporations, they have absolutely no use for the rest of the Constitution.

A few Americans may be aware that Republicans hate the Constitution primarily because it forbids religious and corporate tyranny, but what they really hate is that the Constitution exists in the first place. In fact, since the people elected an African American as President, Republicans have stepped up their calls for a new Republican Constitution contrived by Republicans to serve Republicans and their masters in the religious and corporate world. Now, for the second time in five years, a Republican governor is calling for the United States Constitution, the one conservatives claim to love and cherish, and the conservative Supreme Court, to be nullified according to the whims of Republicans and their religious and corporate masters.

On Friday past, Texas Governor Greg Abbott decided it was his turn to make a stand against the U.S. Constitution, neuter the Supreme Court and the U.S. Congress, and create a Republican paradise where a minority rules America. Abbott, like all Republicans, truly believes the Founding Fathers and Constitution’s Framers were nasty tyrants because they created a secular representative democracy by including Article VI, Section 2 in the founding document; the simple clause that prevents America from fracturing into several separate fiefdoms.

It is true that Abbott did not actually call the Founding Fathers nasty tyrants or bad men for including the “Supremacy Clause” in the U.S. Constitution, but he proposed a few nullification fixes that 155 years ago precipitated America’s deadliest war. Abbott’s proposals parrot the Confederacy’s deep hatred of the Constitution and America that have become the Republican Party’s defining traits today.

Mr. Abbott revealed his nine-point plan to remake the Constitution in the Koch-evangelical image, and along with the typical ‘balanced budget’ nonsense were two or three specific items that would spell the end of America’s representative democracy, and the beginning of Republican minority rule over Congress and the Supreme Court. Most of the nine conservative fixes ban federal legislation that Republicans hate, but two are particularly specific in legalizing Republican-state nullification.

For example, one of the Republican constitutional amendments “allows a two-thirds majority of states to veto any Supreme Court ruling they do not agree with.” Another similar amendment being reintroduced by Abbott allows “a two-thirds majority of states to abolish any federal law or regulation” they or their corporate or religious supporters don’t like.

Now, there is a reason Abbott came up with the two-thirds majority and it is because while Democrats, liberals, and progressives are sniping at each other and sitting home on election day because Barack Obama failed to deliver on promises he never ever made, Republicans have easily taken control of two-thirds of state legislatures and governorships. What is even more telling is that the 32 states Republicans control make up about 100 million Americans out of a population eclipsing 320 million.

For the arithmetic challenged, that means much less than one third of the population would have absolute control of the country and veto power over the President, Congress and the Supreme Court. Worse yet, those 100 million people in 30-something states do not all support Republican policies and would mean that much less than a third of the population would control the direction of the country; it is not what the Founding Fathers intended for America but Republicans could not care any less about the Founders than they do the Constitution or America’s once-renowned representative democracy.

Over the past seven years, especially the last four, Republicans have expressed great interest in eliminating much of the Constitution that prevents them from ruling like dictators. For example, there is little doubt Republicans, particularly religious Republicans, hate the 14th Amendment that prevents religious Republicans from legally discriminating against the non-compliant and non-believers. They also seriously hate the idea of birthright citizenship and want it abolished as much as they want equal rights under the law eliminated for anyone who is not a white Christian conservative male guaranteed to religiously vote for Republicans.

Republicans also detest the 17th Amendment that was arguably the last piece of the Constitution that actually brought America a little closer to being a representative democracy. Since Republicans have demonstrated they oppose democracy out of hand, they want to ban the people from electing representatives to serve in the United States’ Senate; they want Republicans to appoint Republicans to the Senate.

Their idea is not novel, but it is another attempt at tyranny because with Republicans controlling two-thirds of the states, eliminating the 17th Amendment would give a minority of the population a veto-proof Senate majority and complete control of the federal government. And, as a bonus for conservatives, it will wipe out any semblance of a representative democracy; something the Koch brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) openly support.

Actually, Republicans know the key to increasing their power over the entire nation is possible if they can just be done with vote-suppression and abolish the 15th Amendment; theamendment they hate with religious passion because it provides African Americans with the right to vote. Since African Americans are not like ignorant white trash conservatives, they do not vote against their self-interests which means they do not vote for Republicans.

With their conservative racists making up a majority on the Supreme Court, Republicans in the mostly Southern states have successfully chipped away at African Americans’ right to vote. It is not a stretch to imagine they are unwilling to wait patiently for the next time the conservative Court finds a means of completely banning people of color from voting, so a much-touted Republican constitutional convention would certainly include abolition of the 15th Amendment and the end of America’s fragile representative democracy.

It is apparent that after seven years with an African American man occupying the Oval Office, Republicans hate the U.S. Constitution as much as they hate the American people. That Texas Governor Greg Abbott is the latest Republican with the audacity to make a stand and call for deconstructing the Constitution is not stunning. Especially if it gives Republican-governed states authority to veto legally-passed federal laws, eliminate several constitutional amendments and clauses, and overrule decisions handed down by the Supreme Court that do not toe the evangelical, oil industry, and gun fanatics’ line.

This is not the first time since Americans chose an African American man as President that Republicans pursued the end of America by eliminating most of the nation’s founding document and law of the land, and it is certain they will never give up until they restructure America to fit their vision of an evangelical theocracy controlled by conservative ideology. The only thing preventing religious conservatives and corporate-owned Republicans from bringing about the end of America as the Founding Fathers intended is the U.S. Constitution; the founding document that Republicans hate as much as they hate America, its people, and particularly its representative democracy.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Inside ALEC's Powerful, Right-Wing Indoctrination Machine


The ultimate return sought by ALEC is nothing less than the rollback of the state and the establishment of unfettered corporate rule.

SALT LAKE CITY -- You won't see signs for the country's sweetest travel-club deal in the window of your local travel store. To join the American Legislative Exchange Council, your fellow citizens must first elect you to statewide office. If you win as a Republican or conservative Democrat, your ALEC state chair will approach with terms of membership you'll find generous, if not impossible to resist. A token $100 buys the opportunity to attend all-inclusive events on ALEC's busy calendar of summits, conferences, and academies, where you and your family can enjoy some of the country's finest resorts and destination hotels. Joints like Utah's Grand America, site of ALEC's just concluded national conference and proud bearer of AAA's "Five Diamond" rating.

It was on the eve of this conference that I first glimpsed the privileges and perks of ALEC membership. I was sitting in the Grand America's Viennese style lobby café, pondering the primrose bush courtyard outside as a young harpist plucked out Fur Elise, when an ALEC staffer appeared and began placing laminated cards on the tables. She was followed by groups of women, the wives and daughters of ALEC state legislators and lobbyists, sitting down to enjoy a British Full Tea of sweets, scones and jams, laid out on an elaborate spread of fine china. I picked up one of the laminated cards and read: "Enjoy your 'ALEC-SNACKS'!" Beneath the text were the logos of Americans for Prosperity and the American Insurance Association, two ALEC sponsors. As ALEC snacks were served, the tables grew atwitter. "This is so nice," said the wide-eyed wife of a Virginia state representative.

Not long after, the china was taken away and the café grew busy with attendees getting down to business. A hundred or so legislators, corporate representatives, and think tank staff greeted each other and ordered cocktails, filling the room with an ambient babble of right-leaning schmooze and networking. I've had to deal with those same damn unions.... We've got a few big tort reform bills in the pipe.... I'd love for you to come visit the plant .... Are you with Goldwater or Heritage now?

Before ALEC grew into an influential national force over the last two decades, few state-level politicians ever knew corporate pampering at swank hotels thousands of miles from their home districts, the scope for which all but disappeared with the introduction of post-Watergate ethics rules. Unlike their federal counterparts, state reps have generally tracked closer to the old republican ideal of the citizen-politician -- middle-class, part-time public servants who keep their day jobs as teachers, accountants, lawyers, farmers. Some of them have always been targeted and feted by special interests, but it was ALEC that innovated a private sector mechanism for corralling state representatives en masse to posh locations like the Grand for long weekends of cozy corporate lobbying and blunt-force ideological indoctrination.

For much of its four decades, the corporations and right wing foundations that provide all but a thin slice of ALEC's current $7 million budget have succeeded in exerting pressure on the direction of the people's business in 50 statehouses. Unlike the National Council of State Legislatures and the Council of State Governments, to which it often compares itself, ALEC is driven to an extraordinary degree by its private sector sponsors. It also aggressively hides from the press and the public the proceedings of its closed-door task force meetings, where corporate representatives vote on equal footing with elected legislators on model bills, who rarely identify the origins of ALEC bills when they are later introduced to become law.

Most Americans live under at least one product of these meetings, as the group has been very effective in turning one state's notorious right-wing bills into model legislation that can be pushed across the country. Arizona's infamous "Show Me Your Papers" law (SB 1070) took this path, with similar model legislation subsequently passed by ALEC's criminal justice task force, which the for-profit prison behemoth Corrections Corporation of America once co-chaired and had long been a member. So did the National Rifle Association's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law; ALEC used legislation passed in Florida as a template for a model bill that was eventually passed in two-dozen other states. ALEC's role in pushing reportedly discriminatory voter ID bills has followed a similar pattern.

ALEC's various Task Forces have altogether produced thousands of pieces of model legislation that have little to do with organic movements inside the states and everything to do with top-down nationwide attacks on workers' rights, environmental and other industry regulations, as well as pushes to accelerate the privatization of public education, federal lands, and the criminal justice system. The group has proven to be an ingenious multi-purpose tool for expanding corporate power. Like any lobby shop, it is pay-to-play. Corporate memberships run between $7,000 and $25,000, which buys full voting rights on Task Forces that function as bill mills for national and multinational corporations, industrial trade associations, and right-wing think tanks. Just as $100 is a steal for legislators, $25,000 is a bargain on the private sector side. As early as 1995, an article sent to ALEC's private sector members boasted of the group's growing effectiveness. "With our success rate at more than 20 percent [of bills passed] I would say that ALEC is a good investment," then-executive director Samuel Brunelli told corporate backers. "Nowhere else can you get a return that high."
The ultimate return sought by ALEC is nothing less than the rollback of the state and the establishment of unfettered corporate rule over everything from vast tracts of American wilderness to K through 12 education.

But ALEC's long-term goals are increasingly threatened by growing public awareness of its work.  For years it has increased its influence while flying low enough to the ground to avoid public radar. This began to change last summer, when Lisa Graves, a former Deputy Assistant Attorney General for legal policy at the Justice Department, launched ALECexposed.org after a whistleblower shared with her hundreds of ALEC bills pre-voted on by corporate lobbyists. "The leaks let us connect all of the dots for the first time," says Graves. Among the most important of these dots was the revelation that ALEC had been a driving force, along with its close ally the NRA, behind 24 states' adoption of the gun industry's "Stand Your Ground" law. The law became the subject of fierce national debate when it was applied to Trayvon Martin's killer, George Zimmerman, protecting him from arrest and complicating his prosecution.

"We had a growing amount of press coverage when the Trayvon Martin tragedy captured the media's attention," says Graves. "That, combined with ALEC's role in making it harder for Americans to vote in states across the country, led to the breakthrough in public awareness about this secretive group." A coalition of progressive organizations -- led by Color of Change, Common Cause, Credo, People for the American Way, Progress Now and the Center for Media and Democracy -- resulted in raising the profile on ALEC's work and triggering calls for transparency. Thirty corporations have since broken off from the group, many claiming that they joined because of narrow economic interests and want no part of ALEC's broader agenda touching on guns and voting.

When the corporate exodus began, ALEC responded by dissolving the Public Safety and Elections Task Force that produced "Stand Your Ground" at the NRA's urging. By all appearances, the scrapping of the task force is more cosmetic surgery than organ removal. The NRA bought a large booth in this year's exhibition hall and sponsored a trap shoot on the last day of the conference, as it has for the past several years. Present in Salt Lake City was not only the NRA's state coordinator Chuck Cunningham, but also NRA board member Grover Norquist.

When asked if he still considers ALEC a useful vehicle of influence without the Task Force, Cunningham muttered something about "going where the legislators are" and turned away. It was understandable that Cunningham wasn't eager to speak to press. Days before the start of the Salt Lake conference, a mentally unbalanced Colorado man killed 12 and wounded dozens in a crowded movie theater. The ALEC gun agenda, crafted over the years with NRA participation, features a variety of bills and resolutions aimed at weakening gun restriction, notably support for assault weapons of the kind used in multiple recent gun massacres.

Whether the exit of major companies like GM, Walgreens, and Coca-Cola is threatening ALEC's bottom line is unclear. "Some small consultancy pays the same rate to join as a major corporation, so I don't think it's had much impact," says Dennis Bartlett, a 20-year ALEC veteran and chairman emeritus of the corporate board. (ALEC communications staff did not respond to requests for interviews.) But even if its budget has not taken the hit the departure of so many corporate sponsors would seem to indicate, the negative publicity of the last year has forced ALEC into a defensive posture. During the breakfast and lunch award ceremonies and keynotes, screens flashed with "ALEC in the news" clips taken from the conservative press. Many were reactive; some were desperate in tone.
Not even Utah offered haven from ALEC's new post-Trayvon Martin reality. Governor Gary Herbert personally welcomed the conference to the Beehive State, which is the closest thing to a poster child for ALEC's economic policies. Later two Utah Congressmen addressed the group, which included 34 Utah state reps. The welcome committee outside the hotel's valet-guarded door was a different story. Sign-wielding protestors circled and chanted on the sidewalk outside. Two blocks away, a community theater hosted a shadow conference co-produced by the Alliance for a Better Utah, the Center for Media and Democracy, and others in the national coalition to "Expose ALEC."

The organizers of the well-attended event received a surprising amount of sympathetic local press. The local Fox affiliate ran multiple segments during the conference giving equal time to critical voices. Salt Lake's alternative weekly devoted a cover story to providing an ALEC 101. A crushing comicappeared in the Salt Lake Tribune, which assigned a reporter inside the Grand, one of very few granted a press credential. Local radio stations covered the counter-conference; one sponsored a debate that fizzled at the last minute when the ALEC-affiliated Sutherland Institute backed out. Then there was the guerrilla media. On telephone poles across the city, posters skewered ALEC as "merging capital and state since 1973."

Despite its claims of fidelity to bottom-up Jeffersonian federalism and local control, ALEC works off of a national game plan that involves all levels of government. It knows state legislators often grow up to become powerful United States Congressmen and Senators. The group stays in touch with its legislative members who have moved on to Washington, a roll call that includes John Boehner and Eric Cantor among dozens of House members and Marco Rubio among nine Senators. ALEC's resolutions, meanwhile, are often designed with national policy in mind, to be sent to Congressional delegations and federal departments. "The resolutions create the illusion in Washington of a groundswell of grassroots support for issues where none exists," says Jennifer Seelig, a Utah Democratic state rep and former ALEC member. "A lot of them also end up being nuisances that eat up valuable time in session when we could be dealing with real problems."

This year ALEC's International Relations Task Force passed two such resolutions opposing cuts to the Pentagon budget and urging the relaxation of regulations around the export of "dual-use" technology. The IR Task Force, co-chaired by Rep. Harold Brubaker (R-NC) and Brandie Davis of Philip Morris International (a 2012 ALEC private sector "Member of the Year") also adopted resolutions opposing a "global UN tax" and UN control of the Internet. Among the model bills to emerge from the IR Task Force is a "Sound Money Act" that would eliminate taxation on gold and silver coins and allow their use as legal tender alongside currency issued by the U.S. Treasury.

Defense budgets and illusory UN taxes are tangential to ALEC's main thrust at the moment: the push to privatize public lands and public education.
Big Energy loves ALEC. It always has. Internal documents show the group has counted on financial support from Koch Industries, Peabody Coal, the American Gas Association, the Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil, Chevron, and their numerous subsidiaries (a stealth way to increase ALEC voting power). In line with their long-term investment, the industry enjoys a special status at ALEC events. Last year's ALEC conference in New Orleans featured a workshop called "Warming up to climate change," at which a panel of climate change skeptics touted "the many benefits of increased atmospheric CO2."

Mark Pocan, a Democratic Wisconsin state representative who joined ALEC to investigate the source of so much right-wing legislation he saw bubbling up from nowhere in Madison, attended the forum. He remembers the Texas legislator who introduced the event comparing ALEC legislators to a football team. "He said, 'Okay, everybody, listen up. These guys [corporate lobbyists and industry-funded think tanks] are the coaches, and we're the players," says Pocan. "That really is how they see the relationship."

The agenda in Salt Lake City was heavy on energy themes. Keynoting one of the luncheons was Robert Bradley, CEO of the free-market and pro-climate change Institute for Energy Research. Bradley informed the legislators packed into the Grand Ballroom that "the human impact on the climate is a probably a net positive," and boasted of America's growing production of oil, coal and gas. His chirpy manner darkened only when he noted China's growing lead in the production and use of coal. "China beats us on coal," lamented Bradley. "If not for China, we'd be number one." His PowerPoint presentation listed ALEC's core energy principles, such as: "oil, gas, and coal are cleaner than renewable," and "environmental regulation only benefits environmental elites." He praised a "powerful" new Shell ad campaign promoting offshore drilling, and spoke of his fear that massacres would soon begin taking place in doctors' offices as a result of The Affordable Care Act, which ALEC has attacked repeatedly.

In conclusion, Bradley assured his audience, "You have the environmental high ground in supporting dense energy [oil and coal] over [renewable] sources that require so much surface space, is unsightly, is noisy, and all the rest of it."
Like all ALEC speakers, Bradley spiced his lecture with odes to the free-market and the graceful movement of Invisible Energy Hands. But a central aspect of the classical free-market argument is the free exchange of information, and ALEC's model bills concerning energy and the environment make enemies of transparency. ALEC has passed bills opposing the mandatory disclosure of energy sources on utility bills and the chemicals used in fracking. Then there is ALEC's support for the nuclear power industry, which is heavily dependent on state subsidy for everything from construction to waste disposal.

ALEC's energy politics are of a piece with its push to privatize public lands. The afternoon following Bradley's talk, attendees were treated to Rep. Rob Bishop's (R-UT) thoughts on the need for states to assert "local use and control" over millions of acres of protected federal land. He pointed with pride to the passage of Utah's Public Land Transfer Act, an ALEC model bill sponsored by Utah state reps (and ALEC members) Ken Ivory and Wayne Niederhauser. The bill was written in conjunction with energy companies eager to rip up Utah's wild acres and develop "unconventional" carbon fuels like oil from shale rock and tar sands. In arguing for the need to develop Utah's outback, Bishop urged lawmakers to think of the children. "Our kids are hurting because of our land policies," said Bishop. "If we allow states to have a new paradigm, to let federalism be the salvation of this country, we'll have more money for our education budgets."
It was jarring to hear an ALEC speaker discussing public education as a worthwhile social good. This year ALEC's Education Task Force focused on a bill opposing common national standards that would impede state-level privatization, and another pushing for virtual charter schools. For several years until this summer, ALEC's education task force was co-chaired by a virtual school corporation.

That very morning over breakfast, former Democratic U.S. representative Artur Davis addressed the conference on the need for radical "educational reform" and the transfer of vast amounts of public education funds into private hands through voucher programs and for-profit digital education. Davis' ALEC speech doubled as a ceremony marking the completion of the former Alabama Democrat's shift to the right. Davis, who nominated Barack Obama at the party's '08 convention, began his conservative turn after losing his primary race for governor in 2010. Soon he was declaring his support for voter ID laws, which ALEC loves, and contributing to National Review. The audience in Salt Lake welcomed Davis into his new political home, where it sounds like he is preparing to stay busy on the growing education privatization circuit. His education reform talk was extremely polished for a newbie to the cause.

ALEC's efforts to direct important policy shifts on a state level have often received little local news attention, as coverage of state politics has waned due to major budget cutbacks at newspapers around the country. Helping to fill that gap has been the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, an ALEC sponsor and close ally that oversees 55 news sites covering state governments in 39 states.

On the last day of the conference, I returned to the café lobby to interview a new ALEC legislative member named Don Shooter. A farmer by profession from Yuma, Arizona, Shooter won his election as a write-in candidate. He says he hates politics but felt the call of duty. After his election he was naturally drawn to ALEC by a philosophical kinship with the group's limited-government principles. When asked about the role of corporations within the organization, he described corporate power as being "the natural order of things."
"The way that you beat too much corporate or governmental power is to be decentralized," he said. "If the multinationals want to do something crooked, they have to make 50 attempts to be crooked, [instead of] just bribing one outfit. I don't think ALEC is mysterious, or subversive to democracy, the way the Bilderburgers are. ALEC is a way for likeminded people to get together and consolidate approaches to all these problems on a limited-government basis. All we want is to keep the deal in the Constitution. The amazing thing about the founders was that they knew history."

Which is more than you can say for ALEC. The group's dominant propaganda theme, pummeled into conference attendees from the moment they walk in the door, is the appropriation of Jeffersonian federalism in the defense of policies that concentrate national wealth rather than distribute it. At daily award ceremonies (ALEC gives out a lot of awards) small busts of Jefferson are presented to public and private sector Members of the Year for "advancing Jeffersonian principles" -- which really means advancing legislation that reinforces exactly the kinds of power skews loathed by the egalitarian-republican Jefferson.

Jefferson's vision was not ALEC's. He spoke for many of his Revolutionary peers when he hoped that "we shall crush... in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country." Jefferson always held a dim and anxious view of the development of powerful commercial interests. Gordon S. Wood, our greatest living historian of the Revolution and early America, writes in The Radicalism of the American Revolution, "To his dying day Jefferson believed that the state legislatures should grant [corporate charters] only sparingly and should be able to interfere with them or take them back anytime they wished."
If ALEC has one purpose, it is to make sure their members never dream of doing any such thing.

Alexander Zaitchik is a Brooklyn-based freelance journalist and AlterNet contributing writer. His book, Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance, is published by Wiley & Sons.

ALEC's Scary Corporate Agenda: 7 of Its Most Anti-Democratic and Science-Denying Ideas


ALEC's annual gathering revealed how right-wingers will push dangerous legislation across the country.

Photo Credit: http://www.prwatch.org
...The right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, or "ALEC," will bring together hundreds of corporate lobbyists with state and local politicians at a posh hotel in San Diego for the group's annual meeting.

Republican presidential candidate and ALEC alum Scott Walker, who has signed over 20 ALEC bills into law, will address this month's meeting, as well as 2016 GOP presidential hopefuls Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz, who participated in ALEC meetings before he joined the U.S. Senate.
Protesters are planning on bringing a little transparency to the proceedings, by welcoming the candidates and ALEC participants on July 22.
ALEC, which drafts and markets model bills for legislators, has had a mixed year. Over a dozen companies, including tech giants Google and Facebook, stopped funding the group over its role in promoting climate change denial, yet after the 2014 elections gave Republicans control of 68 out of 98 state legislative bodies, some states have had few impediments to the corporate-friendly legislation that ALEC peddles.
For example, in just the first half of 2015, Wisconsin became a "right to work" state and repealed the prevailing wage, another pro-union law; Michigan blocked local control over minimum wage and paid sick days; and Texas banned cities from regulating fracking.
A look at the San Diego ALEC agenda tells us more about what ALEC has planned for 2015 and beyond. Here are seven major initiatives that the right-wing group seeks to impose on America.
1. Attack Federal Efforts to Rein in Carbon Pollution
Even though California is suffering from a historic drought, the climate change deniers on the Environment and Agriculture Task Force will be working on new ways to stymie action addressing carbon emissions.
In recent years, ALEC has targeted the Environmental Protection Agency's "Clean Power Plan," which is a set of rules limiting carbon dioxide pollutionfrom coal plants. At the behest of its funders like Koch Industries, Peabody Energy, and American Electric Power, ALEC has been organizing a state-level campaign against the rules: the group organized legislators to press their state attorneys general into joining litigation backed by the energy industry that challenges the regulations, adopted a model resolution attacking the plan, and last December adopted a model bill that would create new hurdles for the Plan's implementation.
At this month's meeting, the Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force--which is chaired by American Electric Power-- will consider a "State Power Accountability and Reliability Charter (SPARC)," which seeks to undermine the Clean Power Plan by declaring that state agencies cannot implement it. And, the task force's "Energy Subcommittee" will hold a discussion on "State Responses to EPA’s Proposed Clean Power Plan."
Another model bill on the ALEC agenda is the "Environmental Impact Litigation Act," which effectively allows corporate interests to hire a state's Department of Justice as their own private attorneys. The bill creates a corporate-backed fund for states to sue over federal environmental laws--such as the EPA's Clean Power Plan--guided by an "environmental impact litigation advisory committee" made up of political appointees and representatives of "individuals representing agriculture and energy trade commissions."
2. Undermining Renewable Energy
ALEC will also double-down on its attacks on rooftop solar and renewable energy.
For the last few years, ALEC and funders like Edison Electric Energy have promoted bills to repeal state Renewable Portfolio Standards, which require utilities to provide some power from renewable sources. Despite support from the Kochs' Americans for Prosperity, ALEC has had limited success in pushing these bills into law, so the group is looking for new ways to undermine renewable standards.
The latest effort is called an "Act Providing Incentives for Carbon Reduction Investments." The industry-friendly bill would free utilities from the requirement that they produce more energy from renewable sources, as long as they claim to make "carbon reduction investments"--which includes controversial programs like carbon sequestration, or campaigns to encourage consumers to reduce energy use. This would undermine the purpose of the renewable standards, which is to promote a shift to renewable energy.
3. Thwart Rooftop Solar
Solar will also be on the agenda. ALEC has tried in a variety of ways to reduce incentives for individuals and businesses to build rooftop solar panels by raising the costs. Over the last few years, ALEC and its utility industry funders have promoted bills to eliminate "net metering," which gives solar users a credit for excess energy they feed back into the grid, and have been behind efforts to impose a surcharge on rooftop solar users. With few exceptions, these efforts have failed, thanks to strong support for solar from conservatives who like the self-sufficiency that rooftop solar provides, and the fact that in many states the solar industry is creating manufacturing and construction jobs.
In San Diego, ALEC will consider a proposal called a "Resolution Concerning Special Markets for Direct Solar Power Sales" that aims to prop-up the monopolies enjoyed by traditional utilities and oppose direct-to-consumer solar sales. It will be coupled with a presentation called "Consumer Protection Concerns Surround Rooftop Solar Model Policy." In many states, solar developers are allowed to install panels on a customer's home or business for free, then sell the power directly to the consumer, rather than through a monopoly utility provider like Peabody Energy.
Direct-to-consumer energy sales that bypass heavily-regulated monopoly utilities might be viewed as the sort of "market disruption" that free market adherents claim to support. After all, ALEC has celebrated the emergence of ride-sharing companies like Uber because they disrupt taxi monopolies and allow direct-to-consumer ride sales.
The key difference is that ALEC is bankrolled by utility companies. ALEC funders like Peabody Energy, Duke Energy, and Murray Energy are not pleased about the threat to profits posed by direct-to-consumer solar, so therefore it must be crushed, free market principles be damned. Incredibly, the "Resolution Concerning Special Markets for Direct Solar Power Sales" declares that direct-to-consumer solar is "antithetical to free markets."
The proposal appears to come from the climate change deniers at the Heartland Institute.
4."Beepocalypse Not"
At this meeting, ALEC is denying more than climate change. It also is apparently denying the mass die-off of bees, which threatens food supplies--two-thirds of crops require bee pollination--and which scientists have linked to type of insecticide produced by ALEC member Bayer and other companies. Until recently, Bayer had a representative on ALEC's corporate board and has been listed as the ALEC corporate co-chair in states like Massachusetts, Nevada, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Texas.
Bayer has been actively pushing back on the notion that its products contribute to a bee colony collapse. According to a report from Friends of the Earth, Bayer recently launched a "Bee Care Tour” as well as a children’s book "in which a friendly neighborhood beekeeper tells young Toby that the bees are getting sick, but 'not to worry' it's just a problem with mites, and there is special medicine to make bees healthy"--medicine that Bayer produces, of course.
At this month's ALEC meeting, bee die-off denialists took a clumsy stab at being clever: in an apparent reference to "Apocalypse Now" (or perhaps Wayne's World), they titled their presentation, "'Beepocalypse Not."
5. Preemption Hypocrisy
ALEC's new offshoot focused on local government, the American City County Exchange (ACCE), will also meet in San Diego.
Local democracy has led to some significant policy wins in recent years, with cities like Philadelphia guaranteeing workers paid sick days, and places like Denton, Texas banning fracking. ALEC's response to cities and counties acting as laboratories of democracy has traditionally been to crush it, through state "preemption" laws that prohibit local governments from raising the minimum wage, or regulating GMOs, or building municipal broadband.
With ACCE, ALEC and its corporate backers are taking the fight directly to the local level, urging city and county officials on the one hand to give up their authority to protect the health and economic well-being of their constituents, and on the other to push policy measures to advance corporate interests.​
The biggest proactive ACCE initiative is a push for local right to work laws. In the months following a local right to work workshop at ACCE’s meeting last December, twelve Kentucky counties have enacted the anti-union measures, and similar proposals have been floated in states like Illinois and Pennsylvania. But enacting right to work on the local level likely violates federal law, so groups like the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity and the state Chamber of Commerce are bankrolling the legal defense of counties that get sued.
Local right to work is again on the ACCE agenda for this month's meeting, with the group expected to officially adopt a Local Right to Work model bill.
It will also hold a workshop aimed a propping up another ACCE funder, the payday loan industry: the presentation is titled "Payday Loans; 'Local Free Market Solutions for a Difficult Policy Problem.'”
Besides pushing policy measures that advance the interests of ACCE's funders, ACCE is also urging local electeds to accept state preemption laws.
In a workshop titled “Understanding State Preemption Laws," ALEC and ACCE will pitch local officials on why they should let state legislatures steamroll their authority to protect the health and economic well-being of their constituents. The workshop will be moderated by Libby Szabo, a former Colorado state legislator and ALEC state chair who is now a local official: she resigned from the state legislature just two months after winning reelection to take a county commissioner appointment, leading to charges from the editorial board of the conservative Denver Post that she was "thumbing her nose at voters."
The lesson here is that ALEC supports local control when it advances the interests of its funders, yet actively works to undermine local democracy when it threatens corporate profits.
ALEC's hypocrisy around the idea "government that is closest to the people governs best" isn't just limited to city-state relations. Even though ALEC has fought federal policies like healthcare reform and the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation of carbon emissions under the guise of “state’s rights,” at this month's meeting it will push policies that run contrary even to that notion. Here again, corporate profits trump anything resembling principles.
ALEC will hold a workshop telling state legislators that they should embrace federal preemption of state chemical regulation, which happens to benefit ALEC funders like the American Chemistry Council. The "Environmental Health and Regulation Subcommittee" will hold a presentation titled "Supporting Chemical Regulation Preemption Supports Manufacturing," where legislators will apparently be told it is just swell that the federal Toxic Substances Control Act will prohibit states from enacting tougher chemical regulations.
And, the Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force will consider a proposed "Resolution Urging Congress to Eliminate Discriminatory State and Local Taxes on Automobile Renters," which calls on Congress to preempt discriminatory state and local taxes on car rentals. It is hard to imagine a more blatant piece of corporate-friendly legislation, yet ALEC continues to insist that only legislators can propose model bills at its meetings.
5. Amend the Constitution
In recent years, one of ALEC's top priorities has been to add a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. And it will be a major focus of this month's meeting.
A balanced budget amendment is an idea that has been bouncing around for decades--even though it would cripple the federal government's ability to spend on earned benefit programs like Social Security, and block Congress from responding to economic downturns or natural disasters--but what is unique about ALEC's push is that they are trying to do it via an Article V Constitutional Convention.
Article V of the U.S. Constitution provides that thirty-four states (two-thirds) can trigger a convention to propose an amendment, which must then be ratified by 38 states (three-fourths). Although this seems like a tall order, in the past year over a dozen states have passed resolutions calling for an Article V convention, adding to at least twelve other states that enacted resolutions years ago. The proposal has been supported by Koch-backed groups like Americans for Prosperity and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).
Key to the Article V push has been the "Jeffersonian Project," the 501(c)(4) group that ALEC formed in 2013 amidst complaints from Common Cause and CMD that ALEC was violating its 501(c)(3) charitable status by engaging in excessive lobbying. In order to deflect allegations of lobbying, the "Jeffersonian Project" is now used to urge legislators to pass ALEC model legislation, an activity that ALEC used to do directly.
This year, the Article V strategy dominates the agenda of ALEC's Task Force on Federalism and International Relations, with five presentations and two pieces of draft legislation. The task force's private sector chair is a representative of Americans for Tax Reform, the anti-tax group founded by Grover Norquist. And, there will be two separate ALEC-wide policy workshops on the Article V effort, as well as a reception and dinner titled "States Constitutionally Saving “The American Dream” Summit Via Balanced Budget Amendment Convention."
Throughout U.S. history, the Constitution has only been amended through a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of Congress on a specific amendment, which is then ratified by two-thirds of state legislatures. In contrast, the Article V strategy triggers a full constitutional convention, and it is unclear whether the delegates could be confined to only passing one amendment. This fear of a "runaway convention" has led critics on both the right and left to oppose the Article V strategy.
ALEC has tried to quell these fears through a companion bill declaring that delegates to a convention may not vote on other issues besides a balanced budget amendment. Yet, at least some amendment supporters want to open up the Article V process and amendment the constitution to address an array of issues, like limiting the Commerce Clause, banning international law in the U.S., and placing term limits on the Supreme Court, among other items from a right-wing wishlist.
The key driver of the broader Article V amendment effort is Citizens for Self-Governance (CSG), a group led by Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler, and whose board includes Wisconsinite Eric O'Keefe. CSG, whichreceives most of its funding through foundations such as DonorsTrust that cloak their donors' identities, has also backed multiple lawsuits related to the "John Doe" investigation into coordination between Governor Walker's campaign and Wisconsin Club for Growth, where O'Keefe is a director.
CSG's Convention of States effort has been endorsed by Mike Huckabee (who will be addressing the ALEC conference) and also attracted support from the likes of Glenn Beck. CSG's "Compact for America" appears on the ALEC agenda with both a presentation and a model bill, and Meckler will also address the conference on July 24.
Another group pushing an Article V amendment is Compact for America, a Texas-based group advised by Nick Dranias, formerly of the Goldwater Institute, and chaired by former Goldwater chair Thomas C. Patterson. This group also is promoting a model bill at the ALEC meeting, and will hold a full breakout session on July 23.
Wisconsin State Rep. Chris Taylor attended a session on ALEC's Article V plans at the group's 2013 conference. When she expressed hesitation that the public would support the effort, she was told, "You really don’t need people to do this. You just need control over the legislature and you need money, and we have both."
6. Continue Fighting "Obamacare"
ALEC has long tried to undermine the 2010 federal Affordable Care Act. It produced the "State Legislators' Guide to Repealing Obamacare," and haspromoted bills to try blocking the individual mandate in states, and to prohibit insurers from providing subsidies to low-income residents, and to reject the insurance “exchanges” where individuals can buy insurance (which would have had serious repercussions if the U.S. Supreme Court ruled differently in King v. Burwell).
Despite repeated failures to overturn the Affordable Care Act through Congress and the courts, ALEC is continuing to fight the law through the states.
At this month's meeting, the Health and Human Services Task Force will consider a bill to limit expansion of Medicaid benefits within the state, and the Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force will have a resolution on the purported negative impact of Medicaid expansion under the healthcare law. The task force will also consider a resolution opposing federal "maintenance of effort" requirements, like those in Obamacare and also with education funding.
7. Fighting to Protect Dark Money
After spending hundreds of millions of undisclosed funds on state and federal elections, ALEC's corporate members will also demand that state legislators preserve their "right" to anonymously spend money on politics and buy influence in state legislatures.
A July 23 workshop titled "Dark Money Debate: What Lawmakers Need to Know about the First Amendment and Anonymous Political Speech" will promote the idea that transparency in elections is a bad thing. David Keating of the Center for Competitive Politics and Jon Riches of the Goldwater Institute are listed as presenters.
It is little surprise that corporate interests would peddle secrecy to the hundreds of Republican state legislators at ALEC.
ALEC's funders, like the billionaire Koch brothers, have spent millions in "dark money"--electoral spending that evades donor disclosure laws--in recent years, secret spending which has increased exponentially since the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision.
Disclosure of electoral spending has widespread support among the public, and it still has support among many Republican state lawmakers. ALEC, it seems, is trying to change that.
This isn't ALEC's first foray into this issue. Its 2010 "Resolution in Support of Citizens United" opposes both the disclosure and shareholder participation endorsed by the majority in Citizens United. In 2011, ALEC lobbied legislators in states like New York urging them to reject a proposal requiring corporations get shareholder approval for political spending. And at ALEC's meeting last December, ALEC held a similarly themed workshop called "Playing the Shame Game: A Campaign that Threatens Corporate Free Speech."
Editor’s note: CMD's Mary Bottari contributed to this article.
Brendan Fischer is general counsel for the Center for Media and Democracy, publisher of PR Watch.